This blog is a running commentary on everything I care about: the arts, culture, nutrition, exercise, aging, politics, current events, education, the environment, media, journalism, crime, history, movies, novels, poetry, the outdoors, family, psychology, philosophy, religion, and, perhaps most important, the vagaries of love.
Sunday, July 31, 2011
TEA LIKE RIVER WATER
by Roger R. Angle
I stir my tea now, and I am near
73 years old, and I scoop up
the swirling tea and it is the
color of the Ninnescah River
when I was a child. It is
foolish now to remember my
childhood so long ago.
I remember the water
in the river by the
cabin that is probably
no longer there. I remember
the sand and the trees like
a jungle I ran through in my
heavy boots. I remember
they laced up high,
I felt secure and strong
in them. I would run through the jungle and climb the hill and run with the rabbits
in the farmer’s field. I
remember one time after
a fire running through the
stubble and the blackened
earth and the black dust
rising up, but I don’t
run any more. I am
about to be 73 next
week, older than my father
ever lived to be. He died at
72 in a small apartment, shacked
up with an 18-year-old girl. I
met her once when they took me to
lunch. He bought a Cadillac and
a beautiful boat, a wooden
Chris Craft, things he always
wanted. Poor man, I feel sorry for him now. Too many years
Recently, I have re-read a play that I wrote 20 years ago or so: "Laundromat."
I'm trying to figure out what to do with it. I love some parts of it. I laughed out loud about 50 times.
But it doesn't seem to have a through-line, a central thread or spine that holds it together. It's just a situation, and the story problem doesn't seem to lead to drama.
It's about Margo, a young woman who gets kicked out of the house by her mother and needs a place to stay. She takes her laundry to the laundromat and puts the clothes in a washing machine and goes to a bar next door, where she meets two college boys who want to seduce her.
She also meets an older woman, Elaine, who wants to run her life. So there is the central conflict. Then Rex, a biker, comes in and sweeps her away. Thus the conflict shifts.
Everyone wants Margo.
So far, so good. But what does Margo want, besides a place to crash? And what do I care about? Is this story about anything? Where is the character arc? What does Margo learn? How does her life change?
It is Margo's story, but Elaine is the only interesting character.
I was going to publish it on the Web, on Blogspot, and offer it for production, but I don't like the overall story.
So I'm thinking about it. To rewrite or not to rewrite, that is the question. I'm deep into my novel and keep getting distracted by shorter, easier projects.
Too bad about the lame ending. I loved "Harper's Island," the 13-part CBS network horror/thriller series, until the last two episodes.
It gets goofier and goofier. It's like they were juggling on stage and were dazzling the audience with so many balls in the air and then they turned and walked away, leaving the balls to go thud, thud, thud, on the ground.
But there were always little things wrong. I never believed Henry as the killer. In fact, I never believed Henry. To be kind, he has a "very narrow range," as they say in Hollywood about someone who can't act. He always seems the same. I saw him in some other dopey TV show, about a spy, and he seems to be playing the same static character in both shows.
The story, on "Harper's Island," finally got lame, after nine or ten great episodes. It would have worked better if they had given more hints that John Wakefield had an accomplice. Several surprises would've worked better if they had been played for suspense.
Instead of having Wakefield suddenly appear as he escapes from jail, why not show him with the keys after he loosens the belts that bind him?
The show could have used superior position, or dramatic irony, so that we would know Wakefield had a friend and the characters would not know that. It would have been so much more suspenseful.
Having Henry tell people about what he has done is so lame, dramatically. Better to show that, first to us, the audience, and then to one character at a time. As it is, the big reveals were weak.
The big explanations were lame, too. Henry explaining to Trish why he is going to kill her is really weak. For me, anyway. And the flashbacks to childhood didn't work. All in all, it was a four-star series that fizzled at the end, I thought.
But it is hard to pay off a good thriller. Usually, the endings are weak. Too bad this ending was not anywhere near as strong as the beginning, which was superb.
The graveyard of thrillers is full of weak endings. Oh well, it's hard to be good all the time, as a writer friend of mine says.
BTW, the other actors range from good to great, especially Elaine Cassidy, who really has the chops. I hope she has a great career.
I've been having a lot of trouble getting my yah-yahs up to wrestle with my novel, a big hairy gorilla that runs through the jungle and turns and fights me with all its strength.
It makes me tired just thinking about it.
Today, I was reading a bit of memoir by Robert Towne about writing his famous movie "Chinatown."
He said it drove him nuts. He retreated to Catalina Island to write most of it. The isolation helped him focus on it and wrestle with it every day.
I was glad to hear it was a beast to write. Made me feel better.
I realized that part of my problem is that I want it to be easy. I don't want to wrestle the 800-lb gorilla.
I want it to be easy like a short story, like "Casualty of War," which won the Random House short fiction award in 1999. That story took me about 20 minutes to write and I was smart enough not to change hardly any of it.
But novel writing is different. Takes me nine or ten months working all day every day to get a first draft and eight or ten years to do the rewrites. Of course I do much line-by-line revising. I should probably follow Borges's advice:
“Perhaps in order to write a really great book, you mustbe rather unaware of the fact. You can slave away at it and change every adjective to some other adjective, but perhaps you can write better if you leave the mistakes.” – Jorge Luis Borges
Of course being a compulsive rewriter and endless futzer, that is hard for me to do.
Anyway, the important thing for me now is to realize that I cannot expect it to be easy. It is going to be hard. As someone once said, "If it was easy, anybody could do it." And as someone else once said, "Nothing great was ever accomplished without enthusiasm."
And courage. You have to have courage to tackle something as big and hairy as this.
Wish me luck. And energy. And perseverance. And guts. And willingness. You have to be willing.
Many years ago, when I first moved to L.A., I met a guy who told an interesting story about going to swingers' parties.
He was young, in his early 30s, as I recall. Not a bad looking guy. A short guy with dark hair and pale skin. Seemed to lack confidence with women.
He had wanted to go to swingers' parties and have wild, unencumbered sex with strangers, so he placed an ad in a magazine for a woman to go with him. These parties allowed couples only.
A lovely young lady answered the ad, and they started going to these parties. They would have sex with other people, but she would never have sex with him, and she would never go out with him, just the two of them, on a date.
Over time, he became more and more attracted to her, and more enamored with her, until finally he fell love.
But she would never go out with him. That made him very sad.
Finally, I guess, they quit seeing each other altogether, and he quit going to those sex parties.
What does all that prove? What does it mean?
I think it means several things. One, that you don't always want what you think you want. He thought he wanted sex with strangers, but he changed his mind.
Two, it means that we want what we can't have. We tend to find things, and people, more attractive if they are out of reach.
Three, it means be careful what you wish for.
I think it's both sad and funny. The story has a kind of fine irony and a sense of poetic justice. Maybe he got what he deserved.
I have a lot of respect for hunters who need to hunt for food, and for hunters who show courage and common sense. I don't have much respect for rich recreational hunters who just think it is fun to kill.
A few weeks ago, I was watching cable TV and came across a hunting show. A woman who looked like she just stepped off a country club fairway was with a group of men on some kind of safari, maybe in Africa.
They were hunting some kind of wild beast. I don't even remember what it was. Maybe an elk or even buffalo. The animal was standing about 50 yards away, in the bush. Standing stock still.
They worried for awhile that the animal would smell them and run away. They talked in tense, quiet voices, as if they were doing something brave and important.
One guy said something like, "You've got a good shot now. Take it," and the woman raised up her gun and pulled the trigger. The animal just stood there, took a few steps, and fell over, dead.
Boy, that was exciting, huh? About as exciting as shooting a cow in a field. What a bunch of bull, so to speak.
If you want to show skill and courage, go to the jungle in Mexico and hunt along with the Indians. They take a spear and get a jaguar to charge them, and they jam the butt of the spear into the ground and guide the point of the spear into the chest of the charging jaguar.
Obviously, you can't run. The big cat would catch your ass and claw you to the ground. And if you miss, the jaguar enjoys a rare treat for lunch.
My friend John, whom I recently visited in Colorado, has found one solution to the creative dilemma that all artists and writers face: How to devote yourself to your art, make a living, and not make crap.
He taught at a university for 23 years, planning all that time to use his retirement money so he could devote himself to his art. He and his wife Mary are both sculptors. Real artists. Fine artists. They don't make crap. Never have, never will.
One of my worst fears has always been that I would have to write crap to make money. You know, bestsellers. Genre mysteries or thrillers. Most of those are unbearable crap.
In my life, I have held down different kinds of day jobs: journalism, teaching, freelance PR. Over the years, I have had more than 40 jobs, last time I counted.
One of the best was being assistant manager in a country club, where I mopped the dining room floor in the morning, waited tables at lunch, and was a bartender in the evening.
I worked from 7:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. (often midnight), seven days a week. Needless to say, I didn't get much sleep, since we'd go out drinking sometimes after work. In spite of those hours, I didn't make much money. I think it was $1 an hour or maybe $1.25. My boss said, in that sincere BS way business people have, "Don't worry about your pay now. If we make money, you'll make money."
Ha. That day never came.
I had a friend who was an opera singer and worked for an insurance service, where he collected mundane information on people who had applied for policies. It was deadly dull and boring. And the pay was low.
My ex-wife, who was a ceramicist early in life and a very talented writer, once had a job cleaning glass bottles in a dairy. She wore heavy rubber gloves and had to jam heavy, slippery milk bottles down on thick brushes swirling in hot water. Sometimes the bottles would break. It was hot, steamy and horrible.
Not very creative, to say the least.
I had a talented writing student years ago who started a furniture factory. His goal was to get the business going well enough so that he could take time to write. I don't know if he ever succeeded.
Most creative people have a hell of time making a living and also making art. The opera singer was an advertising copy writer the last time I saw him. He was also a vocal coach on the side, finally making a decent living. But I don't think he was singing in the opera any more.
His ex-wife, a talented and dedicated painter, worked for an art gallery, where she kept track of the paintings, sculptures and other art work around the world, like a book keeper or librarian. A deadening job.
For me, nothing has ever really been satisfactory. All I ever wanted to do was write, creatively, honestly. And nothing else. Simple, huh? Easier said than done.
I have always loved teaching, but there is a lot of BS in education. Most school systems are not set up to help the kids learn or to help the teachers teach. They are set up for other reasons, to satisfy all kinds of legal demands that may not make sense. And to help the administrators make money. The first goal of any bureaucracy is to preserve and expand itself, like a fat man stealing your food when you aren't looking.
I always wanted to be a real writer, to create literature. No cliches. No BS. So I kept leaving whatever jobs I had, so I would have time to write.
I saved up enough money one time to take almost ten years off work to write novels. I thought I could have it both ways, write something that would appeal to a lot of people, make some money, and satisfy my literary desires.
I came close once. But near misses don't count, except, as we used to say in New York, in horse shoes, shit fights, and hand grenades.
Anyway, my friend John figured it out pretty well. He planned ahead. He spent 23 years teaching, while supporting and helping raise a family, and for the last 15 years he has been making art.
I have reconsidered the Casey Anthony case, and I am sure she was guilty of murdering her two-year-old daughter.
How did the duct tape get on the little girl's face? How did the smell of death get into the trunk of Casey Anthony's car? Who was responsible for the care and safety of that child? Why would a mother delay reporting her child missing for 31 days?
What other explanation can there be? Do you believe in the Tooth Fairy? Big Foot? UFOs?
The jury was hoodwinked by Casey Anthony's superb acting job and her innocent looks, I think. It's hard to believe such a pretty woman could be a heartless killer. The jury had no sense of logic, no common sense, and no courage.
Too bad. Another killer goes free. Sometimes, the system doesn't work.
I believe Casey Anthony is a psychopath and I predict she will do it again, or commit some other horrible crime. The psychopathic personality lacks empathy and sees others only as useful or not useful to itself. Those who are not useful are disposable.
Think of Casey Anthony as similar to the alien in the movie "Alien." Where is Lt. Ripley when we need her?
At least OJ is in jail where he belongs. The system failed us in his case too, but he managed to screw up his life anyway.
Here is hoping Casey Anthony manages to find her way into prison without killing someone else.
Our moderate president seems to be turning into a hawk.
At least that is what Yale professor David Bromwich seems to be saying in The New York Review of Books.
Obama may even approve an attack on Iran, even though intelligence reports show no reason to do so, according to Bromwich.
Without a strong policy position of his own, our moderate president is perhaps being led to take increasingly hawkish positions. He has already led Congress to renew the Patriot Act, something I don't like.
None of this looks good.
I was hoping for a new kind of leader in Obama, someone who could lead us bravely into peace.
I just started taking The New York Review of Books again after many years. Today, I got my first issue, dated July 14, 2011.
So far, I love it. It's like being on a first date with a real babe. She's smiling and sexy and she wants to do just what I want to do. (Reminds me of an old joke.)
That may not be a good analogy, but you get the idea.
The first article that I love is by--wouldn't you know it--a professor of English. David Bromwich, who is at Yale, says Obama sometimes sounds more like president of the world than president of the USA.
Yes, I think that is right. I think our Commander in Chief sometimes wants to be our Philosopher in Chief, to lead us into new ways of thinking.
Bromwich says, "Obama has always preferred the symbolic authority of the grand utterance to the actual authority of a directed policy...."
These are really cogent observations by a very intelligent person. Right on.
I have only watched the first disk. The acting and parts of the story are good. But I cannot get over the feeling that I am watching some bulls**.
It doesn't feel real or believable. Maybe it's a little too pat. I like some of the characters: The main character, the young blond guy in his 20s who tries to tone down the violence but is violent himself. The chubby curly headed guy and the Brit. The big cheese.
The wife of the big cheese seems not real, for some reason. It's not her acting but the writing -- her dialogue and her actions. Overall, some of the scenes are great -- the ax scene in the 7-11, for one. But the idea that this motorcycle gang runs guns for years in this little California central valley town doesn't quite float. Somebody would call the state police or the feds.
Or maybe it's because the purpose seems to be to excite the audience rather than to give insight into these people and this world. The show seems derivative. It's like watching Tony Soprano on two wheels, a lame idea.
I don't like the name of the club: The Sons of Anarchy. Too abstract. How about Sons of Satan? Anarchy is such an intellectual concept. However, the more I watch it, the more interesting it gets. Still, it seems a little thin. Its no “Deadwood” or “The Wire.” But I will keep watching.
I said that and then I didn’t watch it.
I tried to watch an episode last night on CATV, and I found it boring. Who cares about these people? The episode was structured around long-term situations rather than a short-term problem. And it all depends on violence, which I don’t find appealing. The guy who runs the show probably thinks it is fascinating that these thugs have families and family problems. But I don’t like it that it’s like “The Sopranos” on Harleys. I kept thinking, “So what? So what? So what?” I lasted about 20 minutes. The actors are good, though, I must say.
Saturday, July 02, 2011
I've rented some of these episodes and watched some on TV. The stories just don't work for me. I can't get over the feeling that I am watching BS. The characters don't ring true, and the stories don't reveal anything about the people, or about human nature, or about life in general. I've ridden motorcycles, and I've been in jail, and I don't see any of that here. It all seems totally fake to me.
7/9/2011The purpose seems not dramatic but just to keep the audience jacked up. Two different things.
I get the feeling that the show's creator is just doing this for the money, which doesn't make for good drama.
It's too bad, because the whole biker gang thing has a lot of potential.
Last night, I stayed up late again and re-watched the first three episodes of HARPER’S ISLAND on DVD, from Netflix, including the pilot with comments by the writers/creators. Those guys sound supremely confident and knowledgeable. A very talented bunch.
The first three episodes worked just as well as I remembered. But I had not seen #4 before.
Episode Four – the guys go fishing and find the boat with the dead guy in it and the money. (SPOILER ALERT) They take the money.
The show is not perfect. I don’t like the little chubby guy with glasses and sideburns. His character doesn’t jell for me. Doesn’t feel right or ring true. He seems too simple-minded. And where did they get the guy who shot himself in the femoral artery? I never saw him before this episode. Those two guys and their story line seem artificial.
Having seen the end, it’s hard to believe that Henry set all this up. He seems too simple minded, too. I don’t like the actor who plays Henry. He seems fake. Especially if you have seen the ending. I don’t believe him. He’s acting like he’s acting.
The NY Times had a negative review, calling the cast “numerous bad actors,” but I don’t agree. The reviewer had probably watched too much TV, so he or she got jaded. For me, who watches almost no TV, this show is fresh and interesting. Only two or three of the actors are bad. Most are superb.
Last night, I stayed up till 4:00 a.m. watching a marathon of "HARPER’S ISLAND," a CBS TV show.
Wow. Here are my notes, pretty much raw and unedited:
Monday, July 04, 2011 -- HARPER’S ISLAND
This is pretty darn good.
The contrasts work well, both between the setting and the violence, and between the various characters, ugly and pretty, mean and nice, and the way they are balanced.
The acting is first-rate.
The red herrings work, the misdirections, the way they fool the audience, and the rise and fall of tensions.
I hate to admit it, but I love the scene where the girl falls away from the killer, denying him the pleasure of killing her.
Tone and sensibility are very good. I am both attracted and repelled.
Clever ways to kill people. I never would’ve thought of killing that guy under the party boat, (SPOILER ALERT) strapped to the screw shaft with a scuba tank, so when they start up the boat, they kill him inadvertently. Very clever.
Very clever to have everyone going back to the scene of previous horrific murders. I have never seen that before.
Very clever to have only a few people in the wedding party know about the previous murders, so only a few people, and we the audience, are scared out of our wits.
(SPOILER ALERT) Very clever to have tightened the screws, so that the second bad guy was the son of Abby’s mom and the killer.
Very clever to have the big bad guy have fallen off a cliff but they never found his body. Or is this stock? Anyway, I went for it.
Very clever to juggle this huge cast.
The depth of feeling and character development are good.
The foils are good, like Abby and the tattooed girl.
Overall, very scary and very well done. Wins my thriller TV prize.
I watched it higgly-piggly and out of order. Now I’m renting it all from Netflix and will watch the whole series in order. Can’t wait.
I can’t believe this is network. Good for you, CBS.
In the Angle roundup of today's news, it looks like two people accused of serious crimes will walk:
-- DSK, the married French playboy and probable horn-dog who was head of the IMF--don't you love these initials--is probably going to get off. Looks like his accuser may be a con artist who set him up to get money.
But there is plenty of blame to go around. I imagine he took some willing part in this little sex-capade.
-- Casey Anthony was acquitted of murder today. The prosecution didn't prove its case. But her poor daughter is dead. Looks like the child may have drowned in the pool and the family covered it up. Guess they didn't trust the criminal justice system. Too bad.
-- Pres. Obama is probably going to cave in to the misguided Republicans again, this time on the debt ceiling. When is he going to show some cojones?
-- Greece should get out of the Euro-zone, some people are saying. I never believed in the Euro in the first place. I liked the old system. I believe they have inadequate central banking for all those countries, if I understand it right. Too many countries and the economies are too diverse.
-- NPR had a story about union co-op housing in NYC, which still has a few affordable apartments for union members. The buildings actually have a sense of community. Everyone knows everyone and they look out for each other. Fancy that. Like old times. Rampant capitalism does not produce that, not usually.
-- Less than 1% of Americans are in the military, according to NPR. I think that would be a tough row to how. I can't think of a "good" war since WWII, and that was probably avoidable, if we hadn't backed Hitler early on. I salute those who serve, but not the missions they pursue.
-- Legalize, tax and control drugs. That is what I think. It's Econ 101. We have been driving down the supply, while demand rises, thus raising prices and bringing criminals and cowboys into the market. Stop the violence in Mexico. That's what I say.
Would you use heroin? Not me. No way. Cocaine? Nope. Made my face numb, like going to the dentist. Pot? Makes you dopey in the head.
OK, that's the news roundup for Tuesday, July 05, 2011.